Last week, the Cal/OSHA Standards Board finally approved changes to the COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standard that greatly loosen workplace restrictions that were implemented last year to protect California workers.

The biggest news in the changes is that workers who have been fully vaccinated will no longer be required to wear face masks as protection, regardless of the vaccination status of co-workers. Additionally, most physical distancing requirements that were part of the original Emergency Temporary Standard have also been eliminated.

The new rules were slated to take effect on June 27, 10 days after the Standards Board approved them, but Gov. Gavin Newsom issued an executive order enabling the revisions to take effect without the normal 10-day approval period by the state Office of Administrative Law and that they come into effect when the office receives the changes.

The new rules were written to comply with changes in COVID-19 prevention guidance issued by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and the California Department of Public Health.

The main changes

Here are the main changes affecting employers in California:

  • Physical distancing and barrier requirements are eliminated regardless of an employee’s vaccination status, except during outbreaks.
  • Fully vaccinated employees do not need to be offered testing or be excluded from work after close contact with someone who has COVID-19, unless they have symptoms.
  • Vaccinated workers are not required to wear face masks generally. For unvaccinated workers, masks will be required indoors or when in vehicles, with limited exceptions.
  • Employers must document the vaccination status of fully vaccinated employees if they do not wear face coverings indoors.
  • Employees are not required to wear face coverings when outdoors regardless of vaccination status, except for certain employees during outbreaks.
  • Employees that choose to, are explicitly allowed to wear a face covering without fear of retaliation from employers.
  • Physical distancing requirements have been eliminated, except where an employer determines there is a hazard and for certain employees during major outbreaks.
  • Employees who are not fully vaccinated may request respirators for voluntary use from their employers at no cost and without fear of retaliation from their employers. Businesses that need help in securing N95 respirators for unvaccinated employees can find distribution locations for state-provided N95 respirators here.
  • Employees who are not fully vaccinated and exhibit COVID-19 symptoms must be offered testing by their employer.
  • Employers must review the Interim Guidance for Ventilation, Filtration, and Air Quality in Indoor Environments.
  • Employers must evaluate ventilation systems to maximize outdoor air and increase filtration efficiency, and must evaluate the use of additional air cleaning systems.

What remains

Just to be clear, not all of the Temporary Emergency Standard has been changed. Critical parts are still in effect and it’s important you know what they are:

  • Employers must maintain an effective written COVID-19 Prevention Program that includes:
    • Identifying and evaluating employee exposures to COVID-19 health hazards.
    • Implementing effective policies and procedures to correct unsafe and unhealthy conditions.
    • Allowing adequate time for handwashing and cleaning frequently touched surfaces and objects.
  • Employers must provide training to employees on how COVID-19 is spread, infection-prevention techniques, and information regarding COVID-19-related benefits that affected employees may be entitled to under state or federal laws.
  • Employers must bar from coming to work employees who have COVID-19 symptoms and/or are not fully vaccinated and have had a close contact from the workplace, if that close contact is work-related.